Architects: Arhitektura d.o.o.
Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Design Team: Peter Gabrijelčič, Boštjan Gabrijelčič, Gregor Cipot
Collaborators: Tomaž Budkovič, Daniel Zorec, Simon Sever
Photographs: Courtesy of Arhitektura d.o.o.
It is often believed that Plečnik was inspired by Venice and its bridges in his rearrangement of Keller’s concrete river bed of Ljubljanica. What exactly Plečnik had in mind, we do not know today but one thing is certain: due to Plečnik’s interventions the ambience and layout of Ljubljanica riverside has a Venetian flair. As in Venice, Plečnik envisaged and placed several new bridges over the river. Two of them, namely the Triple Bridge and the Shoemakers’ bridge, were realized as public areas, new public spaces, which were liberated from the river and given to the citizens.
Plečnik also planned and partially realized the bridge access for the Butchers’ bridge and the ‘’Fishmarket ‘’ footbridge (the footbridge between Ribij trg square and Gerber stairway). While the recently built Butchers’ bridge has a modern image, the Fishmarket footbridge awaits its new solution.
What should, therefore, this footbridge be like? Plečnik already determined its width with his arrangement of the riverside, while the river determines its length. Taking into consideration the formal language of the neighboring bridges, the Shoemakers’ bridge and the Triple Bridge, which are designed in a “Neo-Renaissance” manner of plasticity, we can assume that Plečnik’s footbridge would have been formally rich and prominent. Would he have built it as a decorated concrete deck or as a shallow arc construction? Who knows?
Out of respect to the memory of the master and his artistic authority, the idea of linking the two squares, the Congress and the Fishmarket square, an unfulfilled desire for a long time.
It was not until the wooden temporary arrangement was set up, which was initiated by the students of architecture from Ljubljana, and proved to be a courageous and, at the same time, a non-controversial deed. It pointed to the vital necessity of the new bridge connection, but at the same time – due to its temporary nature – it did not offend the legacy of the great master. That is why people did not judge its aesthetic aspects but merely praised its usefulness. Over the years the wooden construction of the bridge has decayed, so a new, permanent solution has to be found.
What should therefore the new footbridge be like? If we are looking for a solution in the new spatial and program formats, then the possibilities are countless; and vice-versa, if we want to emphasize simplicity and discretion, all solutions are pointing toward a single final solution. The question arises, how to realize Plečnik’s idea? Should one design a prominent authorial object with a strong presence in the river corridor, or just the opposite, a discreet, quiet architecture, which dwells over the river almost as an immaterial idea of a bridge? Both solutions are possible and legitimate.
In our opinion the footbridge is certainly necessary on this location, but the space is very much saturated with Plečnik’s own legacy, so that it seems reasonable not to compete with the master in the formal domain; just as was the case in the new NUK building.
It was our suggestion, therefore, to place a transparent, elegant footbridge of minimalist design over the river, one which will allow unobstructed views along the river but at the same time connect both banks as a wide viewpoint over the river.
Our aim was to design a bridge that has a construction as thin as possible, and bridge railing as transparent as possible. In this project we used all our previously gained experience with steel construction design and realization, as well as the use of new materials and technologies. As mentioned, in this kind of approach all solutions lead towards a final form, where it is impossible to take anything away or further thin down the construction and thus the shape. This makes solutions of this kind similar and the achievements are measured in terms of centimeters and decagrams – while in terms of form, despite the small differences – they contribute to the elegance of the design.
Statically speaking, the footbridge is a frame construction with the horizontal element comprising a thin steel box, fastened into the vertical element represented by a concrete pillar on the right bank of Ljubljanica River. On the opposite side, at Makalonca, the steel pylon is simply leaning on the bank with two elastic beds. The steel deck resembles a shallow ‘’V’’ in cress section, the deck measures 25 meters in length and 3.4 meters in width, with construction height of only 50 centimeters.
Towards the edges, the deck narrows to mere 25 centimeters, which gives it a very elegant look. The shallow triangular cross-section of the deck sets up a dynamic visual dialogue with the views from the river. From a distance, we first see the bridge as a thin side ridge with one of the lower suspension panels of the deck. The latter is, as we are approaching the bridge, widening visually and developing under the bridge an entire view of the bridge deck. Finally it narrows to a perception of one of the bridge panels.
The deck in its lowest point almost touches the central arcade opening of Plečnik’s Makalonca façade and is removed from it with a distance. The deck is off-white in color which corresponds perfectly with the surrounding riverside area, while at the same time the reflections from the river create a play of light and shadow on the lower surface of the bridge. Together with the mentioned visual dynamics it gives the bridge an interesting kaleidoscopic feeling. In connecting the deck to the shore and designing the fastening and setting up beds we decided for an ‘’archeological’’ approach. In this way we preserved the original appearance of the existing shore facades, (although they are in parts minimally covered by diagonal profile of the bridge deck). For this purpose the foundations and the beds are concealed behind façade surfaces – near Makalonca the bridge deck is set on a bed which is installed behind Plačnk’s façade and are, when necessary, accessible via revision shafts covered by the pavement of the riverside promenade. It is a simple, yet innovative solution to the problem, leaving the façade intact, in case this bridge will be replace with yet another solution in the future.
The bridge surface is inserted into both shores between Plečnik’s decorative fence made of terrazzo. The walking surface over the steel construction is multi-layered: epoxy layers with mid-layer of electric heating foil, and upper layer made of profiled Aluminum profiles, which are anodized in light grey color (a relatively new solution but nonetheless used several times in urban footbridges).